NC lawmakers request stay of order to redraw legislative districts

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
Rep. David Lewis

RALEIGH — N.C. lawmakers asked the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday to stay a U.S. federal court’s decision ordering them to redraw legislative districts and hold new elections in November 2017. On Tuesday a three-judge panel set a March 15 deadline for the N.C. General Assembly to redraw the lines the court said were racially “gerrymandered.””While special elections have costs, those costs pale in comparison to the injury caused by allowing citizens to continue to be represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander,” the panel wrote in its seven-page order.In August, the same special three-judge panel ruled on the side of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who sued over North Carolina’s latest political maps, saying legislative district lines were drawn in 2011 so as to dilute the state’s black vote and give Republicans an advantage.At that time the judges said nine state Senate districts and 19 state House districts, as carved out in a plan adopted by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2011, were unconstitutional. The panel had told North Carolina’s legislature to start revamping its political maps immediately, but left the existing boundaries intact for the Nov. 8 state elections because of time constraints. This new ruling sets a March 15 deadline — less than six weeks from the legislature’s scheduled January 2017 start date — to redraw the lines and plan a primary for another election.”The ruling was not surprising but it is extremely disappointing,” said House Deputy Whip Jon Hardister (R-Guilford). “First of all, the current districts are legal. They were precleared by the Obama Administration’s Justice department and they are in compliance with the law. Secondly, elections cost taxpayers’ money.”North Carolina has already appealed the August ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has yet to act. Republicans also vowed to appeal Tuesday’s ruling, handed down by two U.S. district judges and one circuit judge. The ruling is a “politically motivated” abuse of judicial authority, said state Sen. Bob Rucho and Rep. David Lewis, the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate redistricting committees.”This politically motivated decision, which would effectively undo the will of millions of North Carolinians just days after they cast their ballots, is a gross overreach that blatantly disregards the constitutional guarantee for voters to duly elect their legislators to biennial terms,” they said.If granted, the stay would allow time for the Supreme Court to hear N.C.’s appeal before the newly elected legislators must approve a redistricting plan that the court says passes constitutional muster. It also requires the state to hold special primary and general elections in the late summer and fall of 2017 to fill those 28 House and Senate seats.The court also ruled that state lawmakers elected to any of the disputed General Assembly seats in 2016 will serve for just one year, instead of the normal two, a limit set for those elected next fall as well. However, the North Carolina State Constitution specifies that in both chambers of the N.C. General Assembly members elected by the voters should serve two-year terms.Republicans maintained a supermajority in the November election and said they will continue working on the agenda, while handling the redistricting issue if necessary.”We will continue to look at the state budget, investing in education, teacher pay, monitoring the tax code. Plus health care is a big issue,” said Hardister. “We are working with our federal counterparts to see what role the state government can play in addressing the rising cost of health care and the lack of options for consumers.”